Posted in Communication Skills

The Art of Clarifying

clarifying ideas

My husband, Jonathan, has the worse luck with drive through restaurants. There is something about the pitch of his voice that makes it difficult for the person on the other end of the speaker to hear him. It doesn’t matter where he goes or who is there to take his order, his experience is the same.

“I’m sorry, would you say that again.”
“I can’t hear what you’re saying. Please repeat that.”
“Ummm…Have you said anything yet? I don’t hear anything.”

If I were Jonathan, I would quit trying the drive through and go directly inside. But he isn’t deterred in the slightest. He keeps going back, determined to enjoy the convenience of staying in the car, and work through the inconveniences of communication difficulties.

Effective communication is rarely easy. Most of us don’t have problems ordering at a drive through. However, sharing an important concept on the job or working through a relational issue can create quite a challenge. But it’s worth the effort for the sake of our personal or work relationships.

As a young woman I used to imagine being married to a wonderful, thoughtful, romantic man. He would sweep me off my feet and know what I was thinking without me needing to say a word. In fact, the more he loved me the more his mind reading abilities would increase. I went through a lot of disappointment and heart ache before I realized how unrealistic my expectations were.

I am married to an amazing man who loves me very much, but he is no mind reader. After almost 32 years of marriage I realize more than ever how important it is to invest time in effective communication.

Each of us brings our own experiences and mindsets to the table, but we must be careful not to assume that others, even those closest to us, have the same perspective. Assumptions stand in the way of communicating well.

When we do not assume, we are more comfortable practicing clarification. Clarification is a type of reflection that seeks to remove ambiguity, confusion, or misunderstanding.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for more information. In some settings, I can hear words but I don’t grasp the concepts. I can either pretend that I understand, or I can ask questions in order to understand. To me, effective communication is more important than looking intelligent. I set aside “my image,” to ask questions because I want to truly understand.

What did you mean when you said ____________?

What does that look like to you?

When, where, how, or why questions are great for helping to clear things up.

Also, don’t be in a hurry. Hurry is another obstacle that hinders effective communication. If it’s important, you can’t rush the process. Approach the subject when there is time. The clarifying statement is another tool to guide the conversation.
I hear you saying __________. Is that correct?

It sounds like you feel _____________. What else would you like to add?

Let me summarize your main points. __________ Did I cover them all?

Practicing clarification requires courage and time. A crucial part of effective communication, the goal is to promote understanding, so that you and I can be on the same page and work together.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19).

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to communicate clearly and with grace. Teach me how to treat others the way I want to be treated and to build understanding with those around me. May I become good at clarifying. I long to be an ambassador of peace, representing You in speech and action. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

The Failure to Communicate

What-we-got-here-is-01

Eliza stared at her cell phone in disbelief, and read again the text she had just received.

“I’ve had concerns about our friendship for a while and have been praying about it. I need you to give me some space. I hope you understand.”

Eliza blinked back the tears and replied. “Of course, take all the time you need.”

Surely she would be able to work this out with her friend. But the message was so confusing. There had been no indication of problems in their relationship. They didn’t always see eye to eye, but Eliza thought their conversations about beliefs and ideals were engaging.

Nagging doubts raced through Eliza’s mind. What had she done? Why did her friend need space? How had she offended a friend so dear to her and how could she have missed it? With a heavy heart, Eliza resigned herself to waiting until her friend was ready to talk about it.

Moments later though, Eliza discovered her friend had cut all social media ties. She had been un-followed, un-friended, un-everything…without a word of explanation.

What we’ve got here, friends, is failure to communicate.

Communication is one of the main tasks of leaders. Without communication our team members won’t understand the vision, they won’t know how to get there, and they won’t be able to work out the kinks along the way. Communication is essential to keeping morale high and developing healthy relationships. As leaders we need to guard against the enemies that sabotage good communication.

Over-spiritualizing. The Lord may have spoken an idea or direction to your heart, but it’s your job to communicate it. You have probably spent hours prayerfully mulling over the concept, but nobody else has been in your mental space or heard your prayers. Take the thoughts downloaded to you. Write it down. Talk about it. Present it in different formats. Share it with your followers. Share it again. And again. Keep sharing until they see the picture the Lord has imparted to you.

Then the LORD answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Assumptions. Making assumptions is one of the biggest obstacles of effective communication. We interpret the words we hear and behaviors we see to mean something without clarifying it. Often times our assumptions lead to offense. Misunderstandings can be avoided if we take the time to graciously ask, “What do you mean by…” or “What was going on when…” A popular statement among churches today is “Speak the truth in love.” However, if you ask different people what that looks like to them, you will get very different answers. Don’t assume you’re on the same page without talking about it.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

Fear. The presence of fear holds us back from walking in love. We are afraid to bring up difficult issues, because we want to be liked or we don’t want to upset others (which often has its roots in wanting to be liked). We find it easier to talk to others about our concerns (to get their perspective and ask for prayer, of course) rather than go directly to the person. Or we may avoid talking at all until we feel it’s time to terminate a relationship. Leadership requires courage to do what is beneficial to our followers even if it means experiencing personal discomfort. There may be times when someone isn’t willing to communicate or refuses to address important issues, but don’t cross that bridge until you get there. When you do, God will give you grace and wisdom for the situation.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Avoid the pit falls so common in communication. Love your followers (and colleagues) enough to communicate effectively. Take risks to communicate honestly and well with those you care about. It may seem to take a lot of effort and energy, but in the long run a failure to communicate takes much more time to fix.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me communicate in ways that please You and bless others. Give me courage to move beyond fear and address important issues. Thank you for guiding me to be an effective leader in each of the areas you have placed me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

A Lesson on Marriage and Oysters

Image result for oysters and pearls

This October marks my 30th wedding anniversary. I love my husband dearly, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s a miracle we’re still together. We have defied the odds, breaking many likely-to-divorce statistics. Thirty years since we said our original vows (we renewed our vows five years ago), we are lovers and friends, committed to making our relationship work.

In preparation for our 30th celebration, I wondered what gift was appropriate for the occasion. The gift for the 25th anniversary is silver; the 50th anniversary’s gift is gold. But what about the 30th? I found the answer quickly on Google—it’s our pearl anniversary.

Pearls are beautiful and evoke fond memories for me.

One summer vacation when I was a young girl, my family and I went to a tourist attraction featuring Japanese pearl divers. It was thrilling to watch as the diver dove into the water,  selected a special oyster from the bed, and brought it back to the surface. My heart pounded as they presented my prize and opened it to reveal my treasure containing not one, not two, but three precious pearls.

I learned that pearls are created by an irritation such as a grain of sand or piece of food that enters the shell of an oyster. In an attempt to protect itself from the irritation, the oyster secretes a substance, layer upon layer until the pearl is formed. The irritation is transformed into a valuable treasure.

As I reflect on my marriage, the pearl is meaningful to me. It symbolizes an important lesson I have learned about making my marriage work.

Irritations abound in marriage. Like the oyster, we try to protect ourselves from the irritations. We can react in many ways.

Nag
Become defensive
Argue
Become critical
Justify
Blame
Resist
Withdraw

Or we can apply grace. Layer upon layer of grace transforms our irritations into treasures.

As a Biblical term, “grace” is God’s unmerited favor. Our Lord pours out His kindness on us that we do not deserve and can never earn. Because of God’s grace, we receive the blessing of a relationship with our heavenly Father and the promise of heaven. He offers it freely.

As Christ-followers in marriage, we extend grace when we choose to emulate God’s character and extend undeserved kindness to our spouse. We bless them, not because they have earned our favor, but because we are aware of God’s great love for them. Like Jesus we offer grace freely.

In 1913, Webster’s Dictionary defined grace as “the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred.”

The more modern WordNet version gives the definition as “a disposition to kindness and compassion; benign good will.”

Both definitions can be aptly applied. Grace has my partner’s best interests in mind, even when I’ve been inconvenienced. Grace seeks to benefit and serve, responding with compassion and goodwill.

It is all too easy to allow irritations and hurts to fester into uglier issues. Hearts are infected by unforgiveness and resentment. Instead of grace, we live by the law of “eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth.” We strive to be heard and understood, and demand our own rights.

There is no simple way to take two people with different personalities, backgrounds, and interests, and merge them as one. Toes get stepped on; expectations are unmet. Grace is a necessary ingredient to counteract our own selfishness and pride.

In my marriage, grace empowers us to laugh at issues that once seemed like major mountains. We flow together rather than put on our brakes of resistance. We offer understanding when the other one is having a bad day rather than rushing in to correct or fix. Through grace, we glimpse in ourselves the love Christ has for His Church.

I am excited to continue to grow in grace. I look forward to gleaning more pearls from the irritations in marriage and life.

How is grace expressed in your marriage? In what areas do you need to allow for more grace?

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33, NLT).

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19, NIV).

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me to appreciate and value the spouse you have given me. I acknowledge that I often take him/her for granted and react poorly to the irritations common in marriage. I desire to be gracious. As you have extended grace to me, may I extend grace to my partner. I trust you to transform our irritations into precious pearls. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Important Note: This post refers to irritations and differences in opinion. It does not include abusive behavior. If you are in a relationship that is abusive, please find a safe place and reach out to others for help.

Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

How to Offer Constructive Feedback

As a boss I can get too focused on getting the job done. I lose sight of my team and forget to give them constructive feedback. As a wife and mother I can get overwhelmed with the schedule and the myriads of details necessary to keep the household running. I misplace the need to invest in relationship. It seems that this tendency is quite common among leaders.

Numerous surveys reveal that employees are dissatisfied with the amount of feedback they receive from employers. It’s not just positive feedback they desire. They are also looking for constructive criticism, to know how to improve their performance. Another complaint among employees is that feedback about excellent performance does not include how they can repeat it.

So how do we give constructive feedback?

Address specific behavior. It is not helpful to say, “You’re doing a great job!” While the person may feel pleased, he has no idea what specific actions led to the praise. On the flip side, a statement like, “I’m very disappointed in you” is similarly ineffective. The recipient does not know what created the dissatisfaction.

“I really like (specific behavior) the way you handled that dissatisfied customer. You listened to her complaints and worked hard to fix her situation.”

Explain the impact of specific behavior.  This is key, because it attaches the action to a result or consequence.

“I really like the way you handled that dissatisfied customer. You listened to her complaints and worked hard to fix her situation. (The impact) That showed how much we value her.”

Admittedly, it is easier to give positive constructive feedback than negative constructive feedback. We may worry about hurting feelings or stirring up conflict. As a result, we try to figure out how to sugarcoat it or ignore it. However, servant leaders must be devoted to the growth and well-being of their followers even if it feels uncomfortable in the moment.

Offer an alternative response. In the case of correction, share alternatives for handling the situation. It’s frustrating to hear that there is a problem without being offered a solution.

Provide constructive feedback in real time. Address a specific behavior as soon as possible. In the case of negative constructive feedback, wait until your emotions are controlled. Pray for wisdom to speak the truth in a firm and loving manner at the proper time. But don’t wait too long.

As servant leaders, let us be led by God’s Word as we offer feedback to others.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, grant me boldness to share constructive feedback with others. I desire to be an encouraging leader, helping people to grow in what you have called them to do. Teach me to point them to You, and patiently instruct them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

It’s Time to Look at the Elephant!

The Board of Directors sat quietly in the conference room, as the CEO reported on the monthly statistics and financials. Each of the six members were half listening, preoccupied with their own thoughts. For the past several months the numbers were down; finances were declining. With this downward trend, perhaps it was time to look for a new CEO, one with the skills and leadership strengths better suited for the position at this particular season.

The thoughts of considering a replacement loomed heavy in the room, as it had in the last three meetings. Even the CEO, behind her cheerful exterior, entertained the need for a change in leadership, but no one dared to vocalize it.

But we really like her.
She is so optimistic and hopeful.
She has such a passion for this non-profit work and has poured her heart and soul into it.

The group concluded their business, avoiding the awkward and painful topic.

Maybe things will look better next month.

It can happen to us in relationships and our places of business. An elephant—an uncomfortable issue that needs to be addressed—visits us. The elephant is enormous and obvious, taking up attention and resources. Yet, no one wants to acknowledge him.

Doesn’t anyone else see this elephant?
Maybe if I ignore him long enough, he will go away.
I’ll wait for someone else to bring it up first.
I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

So we continue to avoid the elephant. It takes increasing amounts of energy to ignore him. He grows and grows, and starts to smell, but we continue to pretend he does not exist.

In order to thrive in life and as a leader, we must look at the elephant and begin to dialogue.

We must…

be willing to be the one to break the silence.
have the courage to engage in difficult conversations.
ask questions to promote the sharing of ideas.
be open to others’ ideas.
speak the truth in love.

Think about the different areas of your life. Is there an elephant that needs to be looked at? What prevents you from doing so?

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone (James 1:5-6a, NLT).

This is my command–be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I acknowledge the elephant in (name where it is). I need Your help to deal with this situation. Thank You for the wisdom that comes from You, for the courage to look at this situation for what it is, and for the grace to walk this out with others. In Jesus’ name.

Posted in Character, Communication Skills

Watch Your Self-Talk!

Hope. It is one of the qualities that sets leaders apart. In the midst of difficult circumstances, unmet goals, or decreasing finances, a leader will inspire others with hope.

This isn’t the end of the story.”

“We’re still making progress.”

“We have something valuable to offer others.”

“We have what it takes to overcome!”

“Watch your mouth!” We’ve all heard someone corrected for their use of profanity. (Perhaps, we were on the receiving end of the correction.) As people of influence, we must indeed watch our mouths. In the face of disappointment, we must speak words of hope and inspiration. Our words carry power to turn the tide of negativity.

“Watch your self-talk!” While this saying is not as common, it is even more important. We must cultivate the habit of hope in our own lives in order to pass it on to others. Self-talk is where it starts.

Life is not easy. There are times when we all face discouragement. The things that we tell ourselves will determine whether we will wallow where we are or whether we will move forward in faith. Our approach will impact the others around us.

When you’re feeling discouraged and hopeless, take time to examine your self-talk. What are you dwelling on? What messages are you believing? I recommend writing down what you discover.

If your self-talk is negative, ask the Lord to show you the source of your negativity. There are many areas that can affect your perspective, ranging from fatigue and physical health conditions to self-defeating patterns developed in childhood. Seek God’s direction for a remedy. It may mean making some changes to your lifestyle. It may mean enlisting the services of a coach or counselor.

Whatever the remedy may be, empowering self-talk is based on the truth of God’s Word. Next to the self-talk messages you listed, I recommend writing down what God says about His character and your identity in Him. What God says is the truth.

Listen to the self-talk of the psalmist in Psalm 42:5—

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (NIV).

In the same way, we can talk to ourselves. Put your hope in God!  As we establish our hope in Him, we pass on hope to others through our actions and words.

“Watch your mouth!” Yes. But first, “Watch your self-talk!”

Posted in Communication Skills

How to Build a Correction Sandwich

Servant leaders care about the growth and development of the people they lead. Few sectors are as relationship oriented as ministry. The Church is all about reaching people with the Good News and discipling them to become more like Jesus. This requires on-going intensive relationships. Nevertheless, within this relationship-rich setting I have noticed the reluctance of leaders to address areas needing correction.

It’s interesting that 2 Timothy 4:2 states that we are to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”  Many of us focus on encouraging; we shy away from correction and rebuke. We hope that by ignoring problems or praying hard they will eventually disappear. Speaking for myself, I dislike conflict and I do not want to hurt people’s feelings. However, over the years I have learned that failing to correct poor performance or address negative attitudes is dangerous, infecting both follower and others around them.

When problematic issues arise, I have found the Correction Sandwich to be an effective tool. As its name suggests, the Correction Sandwich has two “slices” of positive comments with the “filling” of correction. I like this tool for three reasons. First, it addresses a specific behavior rather than personality. Second, it builds relationships in positive ways. Third, it provides opportunity for instruction and learning.

Suppose Sam is on the team you lead. He is a dedicated and hard worker but is habitually late for meetings. Here’s how to build a Correction Sandwich for this situation.

Start with a positive comment. Sam, I would like to talk with you about something. I appreciate your dedication to the team. You are dependable, always attending meetings and contributing positively.

Follow with the behavior needing to be addressed. However, you are consistently late for important meetings. This is a real problem, because we often have to wait for you to arrive before we can start, or we have to fill you in on what you missed when you arrive. It inconveniences the others on the team and is a poor way to manage time.

Dialogue about how to change the behavior.  Ask coaching questions to discover why Sam is consistently late. For example: Think of a recent meeting. What happened that caused you to arrive late? Is there a pattern? What can you do to address this pattern? What support do you need to be successful? If Sam cannot think of options, offer suggestions and then have him identify steps that will work for him.

End with another positive comment. Thanks for discussing this with me. I really value your contributions to the team. You have great ideas and work hard to perform with excellence. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.

I have used the Correction Sandwich with good results at home, with members of my congregation, and with my direct reports. I encourage you to add the Correction Sandwich to your leadership tool box. It works well in any setting where strong relationships are important to success.